Higher scores on ‘weakened tests’ are disservice to poor kids

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Many voices have recently been raised to celebrate the “increase” in Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) scores, and, in turn, to call for much-needed school funding from the state. But amid all of the babble about money, we must ask: Who speaks for children? And whose interests are served—children or consultants and test publishing companies?

Published reports reveal that the Illinois test is one of the substantially weaker state tests crafted to meet the accountability requirements of No Child Left Behind when compared to national measures of student achievement, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). One study by Policy Analysis for California Education, for example, showed that results of Illinois’ 2005 state standards tests claimed reading and math proficiency at 67 percent and 80 percent, respectively, while at the same time national tests found proficiency was actually much lower, 29 percent for reading and 32 percent for math.

A June 4 article in Time magazine reports further evidence about this testing discrepancy. Some writers refer to this tendency to celebrate “high” scores on weakened tests as “gaming the system.”

A more troubling note was sounded in a 2006 report by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation that noted “Illinois’ low-income and minority students score worse [on the NAEP] than their counterparts in all but 12 states and have made no significant progress over the last decade. This record is among the worst in the nation.”

Government and education leaders who lead the public—and especially students—to believe that true achievement is taking places as schools are encouraged to teach to weakened state tests do a grave disservice.

As a Chicago teacher and reading specialist, I see firsthand the devastating consequences of inundating these children with such low-level educational expectations and processes. What is reflected in the “rise” in scores is a great amount of conditioning (think: Pavlov’s dogs), not true, rigorous, complex and enriching learning.

Through no fault of their own, poor children’s limited experiences in life often render them dependent on our educational institutions for such rigor, complexity and enrichment. If they are to be given a fair chance at receiving quality education and achieving success in life, their exposure to educational excellence must not be compromised.

Bring on state and federal funding, but with the caveat that it is the children’s best interests—and not inflated test scores—that will be served. Their ability to compete globally depends upon it. Let’s speak out for children. Let’s intervene in what U.S. Rep. John Lewis, quoted in Jonathan Kozol’s “The Shame of the Nation,” calls “the worst situation Black America has faced since slavery.”

Let’s demand excellence, without the “games.” Let’s contact our legislators today. Let’s save our students.

Bonita Robinson

CPS teacher, reading specialist

Ellington Elementary